Lyle Ritz, L.A. session bassist, dead at 87

Lyle RitzLyle Ritz, L.A. session bassist, dead at 87

“Wrecking Crew” musician was also pioneer of ukulele jazz

By David Sands
March 14, 2017

The respected session musician Lyle Ritz, known for both his bass and ukulele skills, has moved on from this world.

Ritz belonged to a circle of L.A. session musicians sometimes called the “Wrecking Crew” (a nickname that’s disputed by fellow session bassist Carol Kaye) and also made a name for himself through his groundbreaking work with ukulele jazz.

According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, he’d had been staying in hospice care in Portland, Oregon at the time of his passing on Friday (March 10). No cause of death was given. He was 87.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1930, Ritz got his start playing the tuba and ukulele, instruments he’d studied at the University of Southern California. Drafted into service during the Korean War, he served as a musician in the United States Army Band during the Korean War, first as a tuba player and later as an acoustic bassist.

During his time with that outfit, he met Barney Kessel, a guitarist and talent scout for Verve Records. The two of them eventually collaborated on two ukulele albums, How About Uke? (1957) and 50th State Jazz (1959), that showcased Ritz’s innovative jazz approach to the ukulele. Though the albums were popular in Hawaii, where the ukulele is a traditional instrument, they failed to find a broader audience elsewhere in the country.

As the 1960s dawned, Ritz switched his efforts from the uke to the bass, becoming part of the L.A. session scene. As a member of that milieu, his work was featured on more than 5,000 recordings, with the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” and the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” being two of the more notable appearances. He also found work recording for television on shows like Kojak and The Rockford Files.

As time went on, his ukulele music became more prominent among Hawaiian fans and musicians. Hawaiian ukulele teacher Roy Sakuma invited him there in 1984 to play at the islands’ annual ukulele festival; he enjoyed the experience so much he ended up moving to Oahu for fifteen years, where he recorded and played music festivals. From 1998 to 2007, he released seven additional albums of music.

Ritz will be dearly missed by his wife, daughter, stepson and two grandchildren.

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